Pope Stephen IX was another of the great reforming Popes,dispatching his cardinals to different parts of Europe to enforce his rules about clergy celibacy and simony. Stephen was dying when he was elected,so he brought about new rules to insure an independent and canonical election for his successor. Feeling that his end was drawing near,Stephen made his cardinals promise that if he died,they would wait until all of them were present before they elected the new Pope. His election plans were unfortunately thrown out the window after his death,causing some anti-Pope shenanigans that we’ll discuss next week.
Pope Saint Leo IX was a strict reformer and one of our warrior Popes,leading armies against the Normans in southern Italy. He began his career as a reforming Bishop in Germany and was handpicked by Emperor Henry III to be the new Pope. Being a stickler for rules,Leo only accepted his new position if the clergy and people of Rome actually wanted him(they did). Leo set about reforming the Papacy(and the Universal Church)in many ways,combating simony(disposing Bishops elected by bribery),fixing the Vatican’s finances and condemning priests that were not celibate. Leo took his reforms on the road and traveled to Churches in other parts of Italy,Germany and France to make sure every one was on the same page in this effort to clean up the Church.
The Eastern Church begged Leo to help with Norman(Vikings!)invaders in Southern Italy(which was under their jurisdiction),so Leo himself led a ragtag Papal army south to rid the area of the invaders. The leader of the Normans was horrified that he would have to fight,and possibly kill,the Pope,so he tried every effort to compromise but to no avail. The Pope’s army was crushed(because…Vikings!)and Leo was taken prisoner. The respectful Normans apologized to him probably everyday for the next nine months that he was their captive. Leo passed away shortly after being released in 1054. For his moral character and his efforts for reform,he was Canonized in 1082. His feast day is April 19,which is the same day my family and I were baptized and joined the Catholic Church!
Pope Pelagius II was a native of Rome and took over the Papacy during its siege by the dreaded Lombards. The Pope couldn’t fight back against them,and couldn’t talk any of his allies into helping to fight them so Pelagius basically just paid the Lombards to leave. Wow. Simple as that. With that problem solved Pelagius turned to the fine tuning of the rules for the clergy,namely celibacy. Bishops and Priests traditionally followed the celibacy rule but Pope Pelagius wanted to extend it down to singers,acolytes and readers. He was so strict on this that the next Pope,Gregory I,backed off on a lot of these rules,even though he himself was a monk. If a monk thinks you’re too strict…..
Pope Pelagius also built The Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura,(Papal Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls). This was a Church built on the site of the execution of Saint Lawrence,the deacon who was martyred in 258 by being cooked on a gridiron. As he was being roasted alive,Lawrence told the Romans to flip him over,because he was done on this side. Greatest sarcastic last words ever. This Church was more or less destroyed by Allied bombings during World War II. Damned good guys! Oh,I mean…….hooray for the good guys(with poor aim). A plague swept through Rome in the year 590 claiming Pope Pelagius II as one of it’s victims.
Pope Anastasisus was born in Rome to a man named Maximus. Maximus! I love early Roman names! Anastasius was a advocate of asceticism,(severe self-discipline in all things),in your daily life,and during the Mass he instituted a new rule that priests and bishops had to stand with bowed heads during the readings of the Gospels. He also happened to be good friends with St. Augustine,which to non-Catholics would be like saying you were friends with Batman. I mean it must have been awesome is what I’m saying. He died suddenly and was buried in the Catacombs of Pontian. His tomb was discovered in 1618 and it was found next to the tomb of his successor,Pope Innocent I,who also happened to be Anastasius’ son. The end. Wait! What?? Hold on,chill out,there’s nothing tawdry or salacious going on. Innocent was born before Anastasius became Pope,and probably even before he became a priest. You couldn’t marry after you were ordained a priest but a previous marriage would not have held up the ordination to the priesthood or even election to the Papacy. Celibacy of priests was always encouraged but it wasn’t mandatory until the year 1075. Pope Anastasius’ feast day is December 19th.